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Parental burnout: how to cope during COVID

by Mark Miller 4 min read

Avoiding parental burnout

Photo by Standsome Worklifestyle on Unsplash

Coping with this pandemic causes grave problems even for those of us who don't have children to take care of. Imagine adding the responsibility, time requirements, and financial burdens of raising a family to this stressful, disturbing situation.

Parental burnout is a concern for many people even without a raging viral poison eroding societal and familial institutions. But the added stress of the pandemic can make family life extremely difficult.

Most people love and dote on their children and would do anything for them. But when you can't work because of a layoff or because you have to stay home to take care of the kids because they can't go to school, a difficult situation becomes nearly impossible.

Huge numbers of people become infected

The numbers of people getting COVID-19 just in the United States were approaching 30 million as of late February 2021. This chart from Statista.com shows the facts [1]:

Numbers of U.S. covid casers

Worldwide, in the same time frame, the number of cases topped 115 million. Many of these cases are parents with children. Imagine the added burden of being sick, perhaps even hospitalized, with the disease and needing to care for a family.

And some of these ill people are single parents. Even for those parents who don't catch the disease, it is a grave concern that they will become infected and pass it on to their kids. That concern or fear adds to the stress and parental burnout.

What is parental burnout?

Psychology Today says the study they quoted defines burnout as:

As defined by the study, burnout is an exhaustion syndrome, characterized by feeling overwhelmed, physical and emotional exhaustion, emotional distancing from one's children, and a sense of being an ineffective parent.

Reliefparenting.com [5] gives signs and symptoms of mild, moderate and severe parental burnout. Parental burnout is something other than depression and anxiety, though both of those conditions can strike anyone.

A doctor and mother of four describes how to cope with burnout.

Parental burnout caused problems before COVID

Even before the COVID pandemic, parental burnout was a grave concern. Read the results of a clinical research study synopsized by Psychology Today [2]:

Results indicated that parental burnout has much more severe implications than were previously thought. Burnout was associated with escape ideation—the fantasy of simply leaving parenting and all its stressors—as well as with neglectful behavior and a "violence" category that included verbal and psychological aggression (e.g., threats or insults) and physical aggression (spanking or slapping) directed at children.

You might say that no good parent would threaten, slap, or insult a little child. But stress and burnout are such huge problems that people who would never do such a thing do lose control.

If you find yourself in this situation of aggression toward your children, please seek help immediately.

Counseling for overwhelmed parents

If you need help or counseling, you can chat confidentially with the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline [3]. Or you can call them at 800-442-4453.

A chat counselor at the Childhelp told me:

We are a confidential service, so if someone wants to come and chat about being worried they may commit abuse, we are here to support them. We have resources and can counsel them through tough moments.

Another resource is the National Parent Hotline [4] at 1-855- 4A PARENT
(1-855-427-2736). Their website says:

Being a parent is a critically important job, 24 hours a day. It’s not always easy. Call the National Parent Helpline® to get emotional support from a trained Advocate and become empowered and a stronger parent.

How to cope with parental burnout

First off, make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep is vitally important for your health and your children's, both mental and physical.

Reliefparenting.com says:

Communicate with your partner.This may sound obvious, but your partner can be one of the best resources for preventing or healing from parental burnout.

They also say:

Take care of your body. The last thing most people want to do when they are exhausted is to exercise (and if severe burnout is present, vigorous exercise should be cleared by a health provider), but being active can boost energy, raise feel-good hormones, and more.

And, also, what you eat is vitally important:

Additionally, what you put into your body can hinder or help parental burnout. When parental burnout sets in, parents often reach for caffeine and sugar as a quick energy source, but eating nutrient-dense, healthy, food choices will provide more ideal fuel for your body than a cold cup of coffee and your kids’ leftover waffles in the morning. Order groceries / meals online, ask a family member / friend to make a meal for you, and/or work with a registered dietitian (which is often covered by insurance) as some ways of ensuring healthy food is readily available when hunger strikes.

Also, be sure to get some social activities in, even if it's on a video conference call. You can play games with family and friends online or just chat face to face, even if it is virtual.

A test called Am I Suffering From Parental Burnout?, here [6], can help you determine whether you need to reassess your situation and change things.

Good luck, parents and kids, during COVID-19 and always!



[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/1101932/coronavirus-covid19-cases-and-deaths-number-us-americans/

 [2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/targeted-parenting/201909/the-burnout-we-cant-talk-about-parent-burnout

[3] https://www.childhelp.org/hotline/

[4] https://www.nationalparenthelpline.org/

[5] https://www.reliefparenting.com/parental-burnout

[6] https://en.burnoutparental.com/suis-je-en-burnout

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